A friend mentioned wanting to read this book, and after doing a bit of research, I decided to give it a try as well. It's been likened to other popular works, specifically Water for Elephants and The Night Circus, neither of which I've read (I'm embarrassed to say I've had Elephants for at least a couple of years and still haven't opened it despite rave reviews from friends). So I can't comment on the similarities, but no matter; as far as I'm concerned, this one is outstanding in its own right and can hold its own without comparison (and probably should).
The story, set in the late 1890s to early 1900s, begins when a traveling female magician who calls herself the Amazing Arden (in itself a bit unusual given the times), is captured by police officer Virgil Holt. After a performance, which Virgil happened to attend, a man was found dead near the stage. The man, it seems, is Arden's husband, and the murder weapon is an ax she used as part of her cutting a man in half illusion. Knowing she's a trickster, Virgil makes sure she's secured to a chair, fully intending to turn her over to authorities as the primary suspect.
Arden, meanwhile, is certain that if she's taken to jail she'll be convicted of the crime. So, she insists on telling Virgil her life's story in an effort to convince him to set her free (reminiscent of Scheherazade, who spun tales so interesting that the king, who had killed 1,000 women before her after a single night of bliss, would keep her alive night after night). As Arden's story unfolds, she learns (or, does she, as Virgil suspects, "magically" deduce?) that Virgil is flawed as well, but for a very different reason. Arden coaxes him to reveal that a bullet lodged in his spine cannot be removed safely and could kill him at any given moment - or never. As such, he believes he's likely to lose his job and his wife no longer will want him.
Most of the book is told by Arden, and it's quite a tale of intrigue that, for the most part, makes sense given the time period. A few things that happen seem a bit "off" to have happened that long ago, but then Arden isn't your usual refined lady of the 1900s - and, after all, she could be lying. Much more explanation here threatens to cross over into spoiler territory so I'll stop here - except to say there's an ending. That, too, is an open book; whether or not it's the "right" one is left up to you, the reader. Cool!
The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister (Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2015); 321 pp.